I have dreamed for over 8 years about living the laptop lifestyle, and having real financial freedom. I’ve come up with hundreds of online business ideas. Most of them viable, but I lacked the passion and drive to make them a reality. Eventually I was able to identify exactly what is the perfect idea for me. This is the approach I would use to figure out how to start an online business.
How to start an online business
Find your perfect niche
Choose a business model
Pick a great business name
Setup up for business
Build a product
Find your perfect niche
This is where my struggle began. There are things that I personally enjoy, but that does not mean that I want to write about them, or think about them every single day. They are more interests than passions, and through the process I realized that I need ideas that inspire passion. That is the way I am wired. The ideas on my idea list that were motivated only by money always failed. To succeed online, as in life, you have to be willing to grind every single day until the dream turns into a reality.
How are you wired?
The first step in choosing a niche is figuring out how you are wired. Do you need to be passionate about the idea, or are you just passionate about money? The harsh reality of today’s internet is that you have to have great content to promote your website. Someone has to produce this great content, and, in most cases, solopreneurs and small teams have to produce their own content, or be well funded enough to pay someone. What are you willing to put your blood, sweat, and tears into every single day for the next 2-5 years in hope of building a laptop lifestyle?
Is your passion your niche, or the money?
If you are driven by passion, think about all of the things in life that have interested you. It can also be something you don’t know anything about, but you have always wanted to learn about. Hopefully, one thing jumps out immediately.
What types of magazines, and blogs do you read daily? Go the a magazine store and walk that magazine rack and see what jumps out at you. If your topic is big enough to have magazines, there is an audience. You might want to look at a magazine topic, and then find a niche within a niche.
Some great online places to look for inspiration are Amazon, or eBay. Visit these sites and look at all of the categories of their products. What categories resonate with you? Another way to find a passion is to look at your own thoughts. What subject do you think about everyday naturally?
While you are brainstorming, make sure to write down your list of ideas. Once you have your list, evaluate each one to see if you can see yourself working in that niche for the next 2-5 years every single day.
If you are driven by money, then you can research what things are the most in demand, and pick a niche based on what you can effectively write about and execute. You can use eBay, and Amazon to see what items are popular in the categories you enjoy. Be sure to factor in how much competition you may face in the niche you choose.
Solve a problem, or fill a need?
Have you discovered something that is hard to find in your area, or solved a problem? Have you come up with a way to do something better? You might have the foundation for a great online business.
Is there any demand?
After you have found an approach that works for you, and some business ideas, you need to do keyword research to make sure there is demand for your topic. How many times do people search Google for your topic’s keywords each month? A great free tool for doing keyword research is Google Adwords.
Check out the link below to learn how to use Adwords:
These are the 3 most common approaches that people use to find their niche. Which one works for you?
Choose a business model
Once you have chosen a niche, pick an online business model that you can execute. Here are a few:
Make money blogging
Do you love writing, and talking about a topic? Blogging is a great way to build an audience you can monetize later. Here are some suggestions on how to make money:
- Use google Adsense to place ads on your site
- Use other advertising networks to place banner advertising on your site
- Sell ads directly to potential advertisers
- Recommend affiliate products. When you recommend a product on a store like Amazon, or elsewhere, the store pays you a commission for sending them a paying customer.
- Sell your own ebooks, or physical books
- Sell your own services
Example: apinchofyum.com is a food blog that makes around $25,000.00 each month.
Here is a list of some advertising networks you can use to put ads on your site:
Each of these networks have minimum requirements related to monthly site visitors and / or page views. Adsense, and BuySellAds are where most bloggers start.
Become an affiliate marketer
Affiliate marketing is where you review, or recommend products from various online stores. When someone clicks on a link on your site, visits the online store, and makes a purchase, you receive a commission for sending them new customers. Sometimes the commission is recurring, or just one time. Some stores will give you a commission on anything a referred customer buys for up to 30 or 90 days. Other stores offer a few hours, or just that day. You have to review each stores affiliate agreement for the details.
Example: 101date.com reviews online dating sites like eharmony and match.com. When the owner refers a new member, the sites pay her a commission. The owner of this site has published two books that outline her approach:
If you are want to be an affiliate, you will need to join some affiliate programs, and affiliate networks. Affiliate networks are a place where multiple brands allow you to sign up for their affiliate program, and where you can find individual product links to promote. Some companies such as Amazon.com have their own affiliate programs. Just scroll to the bottom of most online stores, and look for the affiliate link. Each brand has different requirements for accepting affiliates. Some of these are based on your website traffic, how your website looks, or how much revenue you already generate through the affiliate network.
There are different types of affiliates. Those that use content, and search engine optimization (SEO) to drive traffic to their website, and those that prefer to pay for their traffic with Adwords (Pay per click, or PPC for short). Some affiliates combine both approaches. Content and SEO can take years to draw a crowd, while paid traffic is immediate.
Here is a good read about Adwords and PPC: The PPC Guide for Beginners
Here is a list of the most popular affiliate networks:
Revenue Wire – Canadian
Trade Doubler – Europe
Buy and sell domains
This one is not niche specific. You need to be really well funded, and take a portfolio approach where you own a boat load of domains. You might own hundreds of domains, but only sell a few. The few you sell have to make up for the investment in all of the others. Some of the gurus try to make domain flipping sound easy, but not many really succeed with this business model, and the ones that do are usually very well funded.
This is also an area where you have to actively market your domains. There are a lot of websites where you can list your domains, and quite a few people like to just upload their list, and then wait for results, which rarely works. The domain success stories I read are usually about people that are spending a lot of money for premium domain names, or people that buy a domain, add content and value, and then sell the site with the content.
Money, hard work, and promotion are required.
Here are a few places to buy and sell domains:
Sell stuff on online marketplaces
Use ebay.com, amazon.com, etsy.com, themeforest.net, zazzle.com, and others to sell your products. These companies already have brand recognition and loads of web traffic. Online marketplaces help you avoid having to build up your brand first. You can get right to selling almost immediately.
There are many different approaches that sellers use to source and ship their products.
- Dropshipping is where you don’t actually have the product on hand. You partner with a wholesaler who sends your product directly from their warehouse to the customer for you. This saves you having to tie up money in inventory. The downside is that you make less profit. Dropshippers don’t offer the best wholesale prices.
- Buy your own stock – The second approach is buying your own inventory, and then sell it.
- Make your own products – The last option is to make your own products like t-shirts, or jewelry, and then sell them.
Here is a list of a few of the more popular online marketplaces:
Create your own online store
Instead of using online marketplaces, you can setup your own eCommerce website, market to generate traffic, and make sales on your own. When you own your own website, all of the marketing and promotion falls squarely on your shoulders. If you are dealing with a physical product, you will have to deal with storing, packing and shipping your products to customers. Marketing and promotion will be the difference between success and failure if you pursue this avenue.
Become a publisher
Selling information products, especially digital ones like ebooks, is quite popular because there is no need for inventory, or having to actually ship out a physical product. If you have expertise, you can create a book and list it for sale. Having a blog also helps share your knowledge, and helps you build up credibility, and authority in you niche.
Make a forum site
If you have a strong interest in a topic that is in high demand, launch an online forum in your niche, build up some traffic, and monetize your traffic through advertising.
Example: websitebabble.com focuses on making money online topics.
There are several paid and free options for creating an online forum. Here is a great article on how to get started:
Create an app
Do you have software development skills, or have a friend that is a coding genius? Maybe you can develop the next hot, and popular web, or mobile app. Plentyoffish.com was started by someone that simply wanted to see if he could do it, and his site went on the become one of the most popular dating sites in the world.
Create and market an online course
Are you considered an authority in your niche, or are you on your way to developing your reputation? If people value your expertise, they will likely pay good money to get some of that knowledge. Package all of that knowledge up into a course, and make it available online. Udemy and Creative Live are great resources for course producers.
Here are a few articles about online courses:
Become a youtube star
The internet has created the opportunity for almost anyone to become a youtube sensation. If you can make people laugh, can help and inform, then you can build an audience for your content. Once, or while you are building your audience, you can monetize your content through the youtube advertising program. Also, once you become a brand, you can sell products that fit within your niche.
Example: Zoella is a young British blogger that has over 8 million subscribers that love her beauty videos.
Sell your services
Having a website is almost the perfect way to build authority, and a reputation online. When people read well written authoritative content, it builds trust, and that trust make it easier for you to get hired.
Example: Wil Reynolds at Seer Interactive started as a solopreneur in his apartment in Philadelphia. He recently converted a church into his offices where he now employs over 80 people. He grew his business almost completely by building thought leadership through content and public speaking. A few years back his company was listed as making around 5 million a year. Authority is powerful.
The various business models can easily be mixed and matched. Blogging should be combined with services to build authority. Affiliate marketers should also blog to build links, traffic, and an audience for their website. It is good idea to leverage as many channels as possible to build awareness for your brand.
Pick a great business name
Some people get caught up on business names, while others don’t care so much. I think that naming is important. It sets the tone for the rest of your brand’s journey. There are many approaches when it comes to business naming. Evocative names versus cool sounding names, short names versus long names, or normally spelt names versus names that remove letters. I personally prefer evocative names that give you an indication of what the brand is about. Many of the top online brands share certain naming qualities:
- Evocative, or cool sounding
- Easy to spell
- Easy to remember
- Don’t use dashes or other symbols
- Don’t use numbers
- .com must be available
- Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and other social media usernames must be all available
A few names that I think fit these criteria are:
- Linkedin.com – Business networking
- Youtube – Broadcast yourself
- Yourtango.com – Dating advice
- Hypebeast.com – Men’s fashion, cool sounding
- Stylepilot.com – Men’s fashion shopping engine
- Incomedairy.com – How to make money online blog
When it comes to brainstorming, I like to use bustaname.com to combine words together to see if anything interesting comes out. That is how I named this site. Throw in some words that speak to what your brand is about, throw in some suffixes and prefixes you might like, and then see what comes out the other end.
Another benefit of using bustaname.com is that you can make sure that the domain name you like is available. I hate coming up with a great name, and then finding out that it is not available. You should really make sure that the .com is available. I also like to buy the .net, .org, and any others I can afford so that I can protect my brand.
The final step I use is to use checkusernames.com to make sure that I can also reserve the brand name on all of the relevant social networks. I will not buy a domain name unless I can create a uniform social media profile.
Once I have my list of candidates, I like to put them in a spreadsheet, and then rate them by different factors that I find important. Usually, as I work through the process, one name eventually becomes the obvious choice. If word combinations with words and suffixes don’t work, then I try combining parts of words, or suffixes. Just keep brainstorming until you have a great name. When you find it, you will know it.
Recommended naming tools:
Setting up for business
Register your domain name
Once you’ve come up with a great business name, it is time to purchase your domains and get the ball rolling. Make sure to get the .com, and any other domain suffixes you can afford. There are several examples of brands that own the .net, they become very popular, and then the owner of the .com sets up a site to try to siphon off some of their traffic.
Recommended domain name registrars:
Sign up for website hosting
After buying domain names, you need to get hosting. You web host is where the files for your website are stored, and are made available online. I prefer to keep my domains, and hosting separate in case I have any issues with the hosting company, or with the domain name registrar.
Recommended hosting providers:
Pick your content management system (CMS)
CMSes for basic websites and blogs
The next decision is what CMS (content management system) you want to use to store all of the articles and / or products for sale on your site. If you want to do blogging, or just setup a general website, I would recommend WordPress.
CMSes for eCommerce
If you want to do eCommerce, you can still use WordPress. along with Woocommerce. There are other eCommerce solutions for wordpress, but Woocommerce is by far the most popular. Standalone options that I would recommend are opencart and prestashop. Magento have a bigger reputation, but it is very complex, and requires expensive hosting for your site to work properly. All of these choices are totally free, or have free options. You have to download the software, and install it yourself. I’ve linked to some installation and setup videos below.
If you prefer not to manage the software yourself, there are companies that provide the shopping cart for you. All you have to do is go and sign up, and you can move right along to configuring your store. The two most popular options are bigcommerce.com and shopify.com. Shopify is known more for ease of use and design. Bigcommerce.com is known more for functionality.
Recommended shopping carts:
Here are some videos to get things setup:
Choose a theme for your website
Now that you have a domain and hosting, you have to make sure that the look and feel of your site gives a professional, and good first impression. Head on over to themeforest.net and pick your CMS from the menus, then you can use category searches to try and find the perfect theme for your website. Once you pick, and download your theme, there will be instructions included on how to get it installed. You can also get assistance from themeforest.net to get going.
Recommended theme providers:
Get a logo
Do you have graphic design skills? Maybe you can design your own logo. If not, you can use your network to find a graphic designer, or you can go to online marketplaces to find a designer.
Recommended online marketplaces for designers:
Protect your customer’s data
If you are going to be selling online, you will also need a SSL certificate to protect your user’s information. You can get the SSL certificate from your hosting company.
Get ready to take payments
You will also need a payment processor if you are hosting your own eCommerce website. The payment processor will handle taking online credit card payments. Most people start out with Paypal.
Recommended payment processors:
Build your product
Most new website owners think that if you build it, they will come. This could not be further from the truth. When I visit online business forums, there are always users asking for feedback on their website. When I go and check out their website, 9 times out of 10 there is nothing there, or the site looks awful. This is like opening up an empty retail store, and then having a huge grand opening.
If you are a blogger, create loads of great content. If you are doing eCommerce, get some products listed on your site, and create some blog content to drive traffic to your website. Create some good descriptions for your products so that you can stand out from all of the other similar products that are already online.
If you plan on selling on online marketplaces, then your products is your content so go ahead, and get them listed on the marketplaces.
You have gone through all the steps, and now it’s time to start promoting your website.
Here are a few tactics to promote your new website:
It still works, but can be expensive. Get some business cards, hand out flyers, make a hat, or maybe do some magazine ads. If you have a bigger budget, and you are have an eCommerce site, do some outdoor advertising (billboards).
In years past I would have said focus on SEO and link building, but you have to be really careful not to get penalized by Google nowadays. If you try to cheat and build too many links, or the wrong type of links, Google may decide to disappear your site. It is all about quality content and putting that content in front of people that can help get the message out about your brand. You need to come up with a strong content plan, and build a system to make sure that content is created on a regular basis.
This article is a great starting place: 12 Steps to Start Your First Content Marketing Campaign from Scratch
Promote your great content on social media. Build relationships with the key players in your niche. Put yourself out there, and build awareness. Create remarkable content so that the key players really want to share it with their networks. Just like in real life, it is all about relationships. Share their content. Interact with them through social media, and be helpful, and useful.
It is not possible to answer all of your questions in just one post, but I hope this post lays out the basics. I hope this helps you figure out how to start an online business. I look forward to hearing about your online success, and one day sharing your story.
It is your turn. How do you start an online business?